Oneal mug

Marc O’Neal

Editor’s note: This is a recent sermon delivered by the Rev. Marc O’Neal, pastor at Camden United Methodist Church, Trinity United Methodist Church-South Mills, and Sharon United Methodist Church-South Mills.

When I was in seminary, I took a class on teaching the Bible. One of our assignments was to pick one of Jesus’ parables, record a video of ourselves teaching it, upload it to YouTube and send the links out to our classmates, where part of our assignment was to watch and critique and offer advice.

I chose the Parable of the Sower, in Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 and well, I can’t remember just how many were in that class, but I would be willing to bet that 95% of us chose this same one.

In fact, our teacher said that in the years to come she was going to limit how many could do any one particular parable, because she said she had watched so many that she started to have dreams about it!

I think one reason most of us picked the Parable of the Sower, is that we didn’t have to do much by way of interpretation as to what the parable meant. Jesus himself gives us a direct explanation of the meaning of the parable.

With a specific interpretation given to us by the teacher of the parable itself, it is the easiest to teach, easiest to understand, and one that has maybe the most applicability to our world. I feel that all of us have a handle on it.

Which may be a problem.

Because it is so easy to understand and is so familiar to us, maybe we don’t hold that mirror up to our own lives and see what kind of path, what kind of soil our hearts may be when it comes to Jesus. We see this as a parable for “those people out there” and fail to take stock of how it applies to ourselves.

Jesus goes out of the house and sits on the beach. But then the crowds came and, wanting to socially distance himself, Jesus gets into a boat and began to teach. I want to focus real quick on “who” he was teaching. Who these words are meant for. Verse 9 he says, “let anyone with ears listen.”

Let anyone with ears listen. In other words, this message is for you. Cradle Christian, new to the faith, lifelong member of the church, someone with some questions and doubts, sinners and saints alike — this message is for all of us, and so we better listen.

Jesus tells of a sower who sows far and wide. Some of his seed lands on the path where the birds eat it up. Some falls on rocky ground, where the life is choked off. Some is sown among thorns and some is sown on rich soil, where it bears goodness 30, 60, or a hundredfold.

Keep in mind, Jesus is the seed that wants to take root in each one of us. This seed is sown far and wide, through all sorts of means: prayer, preaching, worship, bible study, witness, service. A seed to be sown throughout the world, with no limits.

The seed sown on the path, says the Lord, is the one who “hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, and so the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart.”

One of the blocks to receiving Jesus is a simple lack of understanding, a lack of education in the ways of the Spirit.

Friends, we have to have our fundamental beliefs in place before the word can be accepted. I don’t mean that you have to know everything about Scripture, every word on every page, or understand, perfectly, all that the Lord teaches us. But there are certain things you have to know, and not just know, but believe. This is one reason why I think the creeds are important in our church.

I read a story online once about a young lady that was a Christian in a room of non-believers. They asked her, very simply, what she believed. The way she told the story, she started by saying, “I believe in God, and that He made heaven and earth. I believe that Jesus Christ is His son and our Lord. That he was born of a virgin, and for our sakes was crucified but then on the third day rose from the dead....”

She recited, roughly, the Apostles Creed. It was sown into her heart. It was the basis, the ground floor of her faith, and each day she was able to build upon it.

What do you believe? If someone were to ask you what do you believe, what would you tell them? Would you have an answer, or has that answer been snatched away?

The seed sown on rocky ground is “one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet, such a person has no root, but endures only for a while.” When difficulties and persecutions arise, big or small, this person loses confidence.

Happens all the time, doesn’t it? Folks become fascinated by the spiritual and the religious, or drawn in by a charismatic personality, or they have an intense experience or a trauma that brings them closer to God. Then they stop. They hit the pause button. They don’t pick up any form of religious discipline. They may at one time have been “on fire” for the Lord. But that fire has dimmed somewhat.

Oh, they still come to church ... on occasion. They pray ... on occasion. They read Scripture ... every now and then. They haven’t been to Bible study in a while. Kind of fell out of their small group. Don’t want to talk about Jesus in public because it makes them feel funny.

But friends, nothing in this life that is important to us and to be taken seriously by us, can ever exist without discipline and perseverance. Our walk with Jesus is just that: it’s a walk. It’s a journey. It takes intentionality. It takes sacrifice.

Where are you? Do you continually do what you need to cultivate your faith and keep your faith life healthy?

The third problem that Jesus talks about in this parable is this: “as for what was sown among the thorns, this is the one that hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.” Some people hear the word, and take it in, but then they are unable to maintain their focus and their sense of priority.

This is the one that I think is most likely to get us. I say that, because as I look back at my life, this is the one that got me. You see, we have got to understand that the word of God has to be the central and defining thing in our lives. Without it, we lose our way in the midst of all of the conflicting voices and distractions of this world.

There was a time when I cared more about acquiring stuff than about deepening my walk with the Lord. Cared more about status and how I looked in other people’s eyes than I did with how I looked in the eyes of my heavenly Father. Cared more about social relationships than about my relationship with Jesus.

Jesus refers to these as the “cares of the world and the lure of wealth.” Let me ask you this: how much time do you usually spend worrying about the particular concerns of home and family, of fame and work, of money-making and saving?

Now, there is nothing wrong with these concerns in the right proportion. But if these cares and concerns and goals take on a dominating significance in our lives, something is off. Does the lure of riches, or fame, or power, or lust attract your attention more than the word of God? Are you distracted? Need to refocus your attention?

So from this, we can certainly know what it would mean to be good soil: when we understand the faith; when we take time to read and study the Scriptures; when we come to church; when we have perseverance; when we are disciplined; when we have our priorities straight, then the seed will take root in us. Then Jesus will truly be our king and our lord. And it will bear fruit 30, 60, or a hundredfold.

Let those with ears listen.